(Melissa Vong/S.F. Examiner)

City’s unexpected windfall may help replace aging Muni trains

How will San Francisco spend its unexpected property tax windfall of $415 million?

Ever since the funding was revealed in late November, Mayor London Breed and the Board of Supervisors have hotly debated competing proposals for where the cash will land.

One thing is certain, however: The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which runs Muni, is slated to be served up $38 million of the funding pie.

That’s because a portion of the Educational Revenue Augmentation Fund is legally “set-aside” for SFMTA.

With cash in hand, SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin and Breed have both proposed using the money to accelerate an already-planned purchase of over 150 new light rail vehicles to improve Muni service.

Reiskin announced his intention to seek Board of Supervisors approval to accelerate the train purchase at a public meeting on Tuesday. Breed announced her support for the proposal Wednesday as part of a broader spending plan for the tax windfall.

That’s not a slam-dunk proposal, as the Board of Supervisors may have their own ideas about how SFMTA should spend their slice of the windfall. Undeterred, Reiskin is going to bat for the new trains.

Reiskin told the SFMTA Board of Directors on Tuesday that speeding up the purchase of light rail vehicles — the trains that comprise the J, K, L, M, N and T lines of the Muni metro system — is key in delivering faster, more reliable service to Muni riders. Those riders said in a recent survey that rail service is the “weakest” part of Muni’s service, he said.

To improve rail service, Reiskin told the board, the “single most important thing to do is get the old cars out and the new cars in sooner. There will be a net cost to doing that.”

Muni’s older trains, produced by a company called Breda, are out of date and falling apart. Their maintenance is costly for SFMTA, as the parts are no longer available and must be fabricated in-house.

“The bad news is that the Bredas are old, and they’re getting older,” SFMTA Director of Transit Julie Kirschbaum told the SFMTA Board of Directors in November.

Those Breda trains are set to be replaced by state-of-the-art Siemens trains, some of which are already gliding down San Francisco railways.

The SFMTA Board of Directors previously approved the purchase of roughly 250 new “future fleet” light rail vehicles to help ease the commutes of tens of thousands of riders. That purchase was set to roll out over the next decade: 68 new trains by the end of 2019, 151 new trains by early 2027, and 45 more trains by mid-2030.

But in November, SFMTA staff said the agency is already on track to deliver the order of 68 new Siemens-built train cars early, and with additional funding may be able to purchase the other orders within four years.

joe@sfexaminer.com

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